A visit to Kent State University has been on my Bucket list for a long time. About 48 years, in fact. Two weeks ago, it finally happened, with the help of good friends Henry Bloom & Mar Malkin.
It was, at long last, a warm welcome spring day in northern Ohio. KSU students were taking advantage of it by hanging hammocks between the trees, as can be seen beyond the marker: lounging, reading, cuddling. Why not? Leave this sad history to the trickle of gawking geezers. Continue reading May 4 –What a Day — Part One→
Just got a new blood pressure monitor. But this post is not about my blood pressure.
The old monitor gave out after several years: nothing but error messages. Amazon was ready with a new one, delivered the next day. Dropped from a drone? I was running errands when it landed, so can’t be sure.
The new one’s highly rated, and from the same company as the old one.
Out of the box yesterday morning. First step, put in the batteries.
Flipped it over, popped the cover open. Then I noticed this label, just below it:
Nothing remarkable. Except for this statement In tiny letters in the lower right corner:
That set me off. Not a flashback, exactly, but off on a (not uncommon) ADHD tangent:
I was born during a big war, World War Two. I have no real-time memories of it, but my childhood through the 1950s, in a military family, was saturated with its imagery: pictures, comics, books, movies, and then TV shows.
My father had flown bombers over Europe, barely escaped death many times, won medals, but didn’t talk about it. Still, the war, my “birth war,” was always there: fascinating, glorified, ubiquitous, and somber in ways I was too young to begin to grasp.
But it sank in. I expected, in high school, to follow my father into the Air Force.
Then, the Sixties brought Vietnam. And life, in the form of the civil rights movement and exposure to active nonviolence, took me away from the military, to the anti-war side, and among Quakers.
But that’s another story.
I didn’t start hating the military. But I soon began to learn, even from a “safe” distance, about the human costs of war.
The Vietnam lessons went on for about ten years, and yes, they were traumatic for me personally, even 8000 miles from Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City.
I’m not comparing myself to the millions of Vietnam veterans who never recovered from their firsthand war. But it undeniably had vast impact inside the U.S. Too, impact which continues, though I can’t even begin to fathom or chart the ways here.
The impact was general. It was also, I see clearly now, very personal.
One personal impact was on my spiritual life: I learned that the biblical adage about how we reap what we sow wasn’t just an old saying: it was a Truth.
That learning didn’t make me a “Bible believer.” It did make me a “Take-a-Second-Look-Maybe-There’s-Something-Useful-Here-After-All” Bible reader.
In that second look I uncovered another truth, in Psalm 146: “Put not your trust in princes”(or, in a modern rendering, presidents who promise not to get into a big Vietnam War during a campaign, only to do exactly that three months after winning the election.)
This piece of Truth I’ve had to re-learn several times since; and now that it’s already 2016 everywhere but the calendar, here comes another marathon refresher course.
If World War Two was my father’s war and the frame of my childhood, Vietnam was my coming of age war. And besides being haunted by the living testimonies of veterans and others at home, there are several numbers from it that also continue to haunt:
1-million plus, the estimated total Vietnamese, mostly civilians, killed in it. Two, or thee million more in a sideshow war launched on Cambodia, which loosed a genocide as “collateral damage.” And the unnumbered children and grandchildren of Vietnam disfigured by ongoing pieces of our war such as Agent Orange.
(There are many photos of some of them on the net, casualties of our war who were not even born til a generation after it supposedly “ended”; but don’t look at them if you are weak of heart or stomach.)
Thinking of that war, I often ponder some of what happened next: we were repeatedly told by our “Princes” of the day that we had to win it, because otherwise “Godless Communists” would take over, and impose an economic/political system that wouldn’t, couldn’t work.
The Hawks and wise Persons were right about that much: we lost the war, and after defeating the U.S., the Communists did impose their system; and behold, that system, especially the economic part, didn’t work.
So after running the Vietnamese economy into the ground, the rulers changed course and became, like the Chinese, a variety of authoritarian/corrupt crony capitalists. (Turns out they weren’t so “godless” after all; they shared the worship of Mammon with many of us.)
Now their economy works much “better.” Even the U.S. Government agrees, and we are now “friends” with Vietnam; many of our corporations are doing big business there. Like Amazon, for instance. Starbucks and KFC too. And yes, McDonalds. (Turns out the franchise is –surprise, surprise — owned by the son of a high government official; he also has degrees from elite U.S. universities. “Would you like fries and an Ivy-League PhD with that, sir?”)
But all this does not get to the bottom of my pondering. I keep asking, mostly silently but sometimes aloud: couldn’t we have figured out a way to just back off and leave Vietnam alone? Let the Communists, if they won their internal war, try out their dingbat system, let it fail, and then skip ahead to the post-Communist part?
The part where they make inexpensive blood pressure monitors?
If we had, several million deaths there could have been spared. Many hundreds of thousands of American lives would have been spared too. Not to mention all the hundreds of billions of debt that financed this bloody foolishness, left for us and our grandchildren to pay, in declining schools, failing bridges, roads, etc., etc.
But of course, we didn’t back off. And since my coming of age war, there have been numerous other U.S. wars, the ones of my middle age and senescence, which are ongoing. It’s likely some will still be underway when I meet my maker, even tho I’m hoping to live a good many more years.
So for almost half a century, promoting & working for “peace” has been an active goal for me. But as an American in my time, it is war, big and “small,” overt and secret, that has enveloped and shaped my life. I didn’t want it that way. They say the Vietnam War ended 40 years ago this week. But I haven’t been able to escape it, or its spawn. Ignore it briefly, now and then; escape it, no.
All this tumbled through my mind as I slid the batteries into my new monitor, and got ready for its initial reading.
“Made in Vietnam.”
Maybe this post is about my blood pressure after all.
I wasn’t having a good night. And I hadn’t had a good day. Needleman in the Washington office had called just after lunch. He said they wanted me there, right away. I had to help the boss get ready for a big hearing before the Defense Systems Commission tomorrow. I told him I’d promised to take the kids to a ballgame.
Needleman wasn’t impressed. “They play ballgames in Pittsburgh every night, Nelson,” he said. “We get a chance at a hundred million dollar contract once every ten years, if we’re lucky. This hearing could win it for us. The boss needs your data, and he needs you here to explain it to him. Tonight.”
A Quaker married to a non-Friend pleaded for help the other day, because her husband was very skeptical that any non-warlike response to the brutal conquests of ISIS in the the Middle East would have any chances of success.
She couldn’t think of any adequate peaceful response, but didn’t want to give up. Did anyone have any advice, she asked?
There were lots of responses. Here’s mine, since the question is an old one, recurring pretty regularly with each new war the U.S. gets involved in, which is several in my adult lifetime, and many more before that . . . .
If you look in the early Quaker books of Discipline (a useful summary is here) and search for the “Peace Testimony,” you won’t find it, because it is NOT there. Nope. No such thing.
Instead, you’ll find a testimony insisting that Friends stay out of wars and preparation for wars, on pain of disownment. It says nothing about how to resolve or prevent war; that idea was, to borrow a modern phrase, “way above the early Friends’ pay grade.” The idea behind this “old-time” Testimony is that Friends were supposed to be living under the spirit of peace, and so they “don’t learn (or do) war anymore” (to borrow from the Bible).
Three Pictures for Today: First, John Kiriakou, CIA whistleblower who confirmed the existence of the CIA’s illegal torture program, just got out of jail, after serving two years in a federal penitentiary. This twitter photo says it all:
Well, not QUITE all. Kiriakou still has a million-dollar legal bill, five kids, one in college, no pension and no job. And he has one other major distinction: of those government officials who planned the illegal [as in violatingexisting U.S. federal criminal law] CIA torture program, organized it, carried it out, shilled for it, covered it up, lied and obstructed justice for it, the only one who has faced charges is Kiriakou, whose “crime” was confirming its existence to a reporter. More on John and his background here.
Now, to the second photo of the day:
Departing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was the federal officer ultimately responsible for the prosecution of Kiriakou and other whistleblowers about torture, government spying on citizens, and more. His record in this record is usefully , shockingly summarized here.
No doubt Holder did some good work in his tenure; but the record on civil liberties is going to make a rough chapter in the history books; and it ought to give him nightmares.
So Welcome home, John Kiriakou. And Eric Holder: here’s the third photo, a sign for you:
Be honest: Could you say “No” to “the war to end wars”?
Turns out that president Woodrow Wilson didn’t coin that phrase, and reportedly only used it in public once.
But it doesn’t matter. The phrase, along with one that Wilson did use, “to make the world safe for democracy,” became key pieces of a pioneering and apparently very successful government propaganda campaign to mobilize U.S. public opinion for joining the war. This despite the fact that Wilson won re-election in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.”
In Spring a (not so) young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of . . . cleaning up the legacy of torture taxi flights from North Carolina. On April 20, 2013, that meant heading out to Smithfield, where a CIA front company called Aero Contractors is barricaded at the Johnston county Airport behind high fences and heavy security.
There I gathered with a dozen or so other steadfast activists, and we went to work. Here are some photos, with explanatory captions.
As reports, official and unofficial, have come in about Gina Haspel, the nominee to be the next CIA Director, eerie memories began to seep from the back of my mind.
Take, for instance, this passage from a major Newsweek piece, just out:
“She is the woman who keeps the secrets,” Daniel Hoffman, another former senior CIA officer, told Newsweek. “That’s her. She’s the most discreet person I ever worked with.”
Early on, when she signed up in 1985, she chose the clandestine world over a more public life with a husband and children, her colleagues said. Hall recalled asking Haspel what her weekend plans were as a meeting broke up one afternoon. “Steve, come on,” he remembered her saying. “You know that I have no social life. I have no life whatsoever outside of work.”
A CIA front company, Aero Contractors, ran “torture taxi” flights out of the Johnston County airport in North Carolina for years. The flights crossed there Atlantic, picked up prisoners from Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, and took them to secret prisons, Guantanamo, and other torture sites overseas. (This is not a rumor; the New York Times among others “outed” the operation years ago.)
In December 2010, on a bright but cold afternoon, I took a serious blow to the ego, and what’s left of my cultural pride. It probably did me good, but I’m still rubbing the sore spot: it’s like a bruise that just won’t heal. It started out fine, when I got off a bus not far from Waterford, Ireland, just in time for an interview.